The Grand Tour: Fife and Beyond

Ramblings of an inveterate cyclist

 I was sitting at my computer on Wednesday when a message popped up on the screen from Elie weather, to tell me that not only would it be turning colder but the weather would deteriorate over the week, so better get your skates on.

Thursday morning I stuffed the bike in the boot of the Glasgow bus from St Andrews and pressed my bus pass into service, for a trip to Halbeath park and ride.

The sky was overcast but the thin cloud cover seemed high, more unwelcome, was the low bank of fog around Lochore Meadows as we passed.

The air was cold and I was glad of my woolly hat pulled down over my ears as I set off for Hill of Beath then onto Kelty where I joined the B996 for Kinross. By the time I had reached Lochleven’s lochside ‘my tiny hands were frozen’ but no Rodolfo singing ‘Che gelida manina’.

I would have like to go out to the island where Mary, Queen of Scots, was held prisoner but was foiled by coronavirus once more. I chained up my bike at the boathouse and set off along the path for Queen Mary’s Gate,

a family of swans were preening themselves by the jetty where Mary landed.

Mary made a lot of bad choices in her life, mostly in picking husbands. The end came at Carberry Hill, near Musselburgh, east of Edinburgh. Not much of a battle really, the two armies, that of the Confederate Lords and Mary’s troops were about equal in number. Mary was indecisive, neither side really wanted to fight and kill their own countrymen. Mary decided to negotiate with the Confederate Lords rather than risk a battle which would have resulted in significant bloodshed. In the end, all she did was traded her freedom for Bothwell’s.

Mary had expected to be treated with respect by the Confederate Lords, not a hope in hell, Scotland at that time was much like Afghanistan today, a collection of greedy warmongering war-lords. Mary was taken back to Edinburgh where she was greeted by a jeering crowd rather than the cheering crowed that she might have expected.

Mary was a most unlucky queens, married to a week sickly child (king of France) with a built-in, watertight prenuptial agreement. When he died, there was not a lot going for her in France, so she came to Scotland to claim her rightful inheritance as Queen of Scotland. Alas, she was Catholic in a country that had given up the old religion. She also had a strong claim to the English crown, therefore danger from both camps. But what were the Confederate Lords to do with Mary, after all, she was still their queen. Mary was taken to Lochleven, where they shipped her out to a small castle on the island, out of sight and out of mind, and crowned James V1, king of Scotland.

Mary already knew Lochleven castle well, it was here in 1563 she confronted John Knox, hoping to charm him, not a hope. Knox vehemently objected, not only to Mary retaining her Catholic faith, but objected to any female ruler. Knox did not budge one jot from his extreme anti-Catholic and misogynistic views.

If I had reached the island this is what I would have seen.
What I did see, from a long way off.

Mary’s womanly charms may not have made her any inroads with Knox, but she had better luck with young George Douglas, son of her gaoler Sir William Douglas, and young Willie Douglas a relation of Sir William, and in his care, following the death of his parents. They would help in any way they could in adding Mary’s escape.

Mary spend just over a year in captivity in Lochleven Castle, she had already made one failed attempt, disguised as a washerwoman. But her dress could not disguise her beauty, her tall slender form and her French accent. The boatman would not be fooled, she was never going to pass as anyone other than the Queen of Scots.

Opportunity arrived on the 2 May 1568, Lady Douglas, the wife of Sir William, had given birth and the garrison was too preoccupied with celebrating the occasion that they took their eye of guarding Mary. As Sir William was eating and no doubt a little drunk, young Willie Douglas managed to steal the castle keys. Mary changed into old clothes and made her way down to the landing stage via a postern gate. Then together with Willie and a servant woman they made their way by boat across the loch. Meanwhile, one of Mary’s Ladies-in-waiting dressed in Mary’s clothes and making sure she was seen from time to time, and at a safe distance so that it appeared as if Mary was still in the castle. When they reached the shore at what is now Queen Mary’s Gate, George Douglas, was waiting with a party of supporters, they would escort Mary to Niddry Castle, (now a private home), where she spent her first night of freedom. From there she found sanctuary with the Hamilton family, in central Scotland, There support was never freely given, Hamilton wanted to control Scotland by having control over the queen, or by marrying her into their family. (Never trust a Hamilton, that would be my advice).

All that was left for me to do was head back to the park and ride and board my magic (stagecoach) carper for St Andrews, It ain’t half hot in here mum.

I just love this stuff, it is better than any novel of fiction, you could not make this up, no one would believe you. I have already started exploring Mary’s Scotland, with a book by Ian Douglas, of the same name, Exploring Mary’s Scotland.

Most enjoyable day out, sad that there was no ferry to the island, seems daft, I could travel in a bus but not on a boat and I had forgotten just how cold it can get on a bike, wind chill and all that technical stuff. Keep safe and keep peddling.  

P.S. winds picking up to 40 mph (Elie Weather).

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